Mean people suck

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October 17, 2013 by nooffensebut

I want to talk a little about kindness to strangers.

Not Blanche DuBois-style kindness, but the impoliteness we seem to express toward strangers simply because anonymity permits us to do so.

Take, for example, a letter I received in the mail this week. A reader sent back a copy of a recent column I wrote, along with a note reading: “Dear Ms. Leber: … Among the two of us, my cat likes tuner fish better than me do. Ain’t grammer a indoor sport?”

The note was in response to an error I made: I used the word “among” when I should have used “between.” It’s completely inexcusable and I’m mortified, particularly since I am not what one might call a “forgiving soul” when it comes to improper use of the English language.

I have no issue with being taken to task for my wrongdoing. What I do take issue with is the manner in which this person chose to do it. Had he sent a direct admonishment instead of being so snide, I would have been equally embarrassed, but my regret over the error I made would not have been overshadowed by my observation that this man was just being nasty.

Because we’re strangers, he can get away with it.

This happens a lot. We forget about the basic manners our mothers taught us. In fact, we purposely eschew them for no other reason than the fact that we won’t really have to answer for bad behavior.

This happens a lot online; and if you want proof, just read some of the comments on the newspaper’s website or Facebook page. With user names and the distance created by cyberspace to hide behind, many people will launch personal attacks against one another for committing the simple offense of disagreeing.

“Who is this guy?” my concerned father emailed me recently about a person who commented on one of my stories. “He sounds angry, maybe toward you.”

I explained to him that most of the people who launch into tirades online do so because they feel like they aren’t listened to in real life, so they go on the offensive in a safe, anonymous environment. I also had to explain this to a woman who was the subject of a story I wrote, after she got upset about some comments she felt were attacks.

I get it. It’s not easy to honestly express anger or distaste. We live in a society of irritating political and social correctness where every criticism has to be preceded with “No offense, but …” It gets tiresome, having to be so careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings.

But there’s a difference between being honestly critical of a person’s opinions or actions and nastily attacking a person for those actions because you don’t have to communicate with them face-to-face, or ever even meet them.

Full disclosure: I’ve done it too. I’ve signed on to message boards I like (not the TFP’s, just for the record) using an anonymous name and gone on the attack, because I was angry about something in my life and I wanted a scapegoat without having to worry about hurting someone’s feelings. But the truth is, I probably did. At the time, I didn’t care. At the time, if we’re being really honest, I was probably a little proud of myself.

In retrospect, these were definitely not among my prouder moments.

Originally published July 1, 2011 in the Chattanooga Times Free Press

Reader Notes:

Hi, Holly,
I couldn’t agree more with your column in today’s paper.  I’ve always said if someone was standing in the same room with you and had the opportunity to say the nasty things they put in an email, you’d never hear a word.
The relationship issues you ponder in your columns takes me back to my single days (a long, long time ago).  Your honesty is refreshing.  I am thrilled Chattanooga has its own Carrie Bradshaw!  
Sincerely, Cindy C. 

Ms. Leber,

I connected with your column Friday so much I had to respond.  It was the first time I’ve ever read your column and now I’m hooked.  You are a fantastic writer and it’s refreshing to find someone in your field who is so passionate about their work that you would be devastated by the “among” and “between” mix-up!  I have a degree in English and even if I caught the mistake I would not rank that as a mock-worthy offense.  You are right, that guy obviously is missing something in his life that he must fill it with childish snark.  Who takes the time to do something like that?  I’m sorry you had to go through that.

I hope you don’t mind if I share an experience I had with “cyber-bullying” this week.  I have a Facebook friend that I’ve known for most of my life.  We’re not close friends but we’ve known each other for a long time and have dozens of friends in common.  We’ve never had an argument or disagreement.  Last year, he made a jab at me on Facebook for no reason.  He mocked me because my husband and I live with my parents.  I warned him that it wasn’t okay to joke about that.  I’m extremely sensitive about our financial hardships and to me, it was cruel.  He continued to attack me, even after I told him that hurt my feelings and I had other people come to my defense.  I was at a loss as to why this person (or anyone) would find it funny or even appropriate to insult someone’s finances.  I “un-friended” him because of this argument.  He sent multiple Friend requests and I finally relented.  I soon noticed that I wasn’t the only one who was the victim of his “humor.”  He puts people down constantly and I suppose he finds it amusing.  However, he isn’t like that in “real life.”  He wouldn’t dare say these things in person.  This week, someone posted about the book “Go the F%@# to Sleep” book.  He posted that he didn’t find this book funny at all.  A friend of mine and I posted that he has 3 kids and asked him how could he possibly not find any humor in it.  Anyone who’s tried to put a child to bed can find humor in the frustration all parents and caretakers share.  He fired back saying, “Well, I’m not an advocate of child abuse like [my friend] and A, but then again, I don’t have your kids.”  I was livid.  Insult me all you want but insult my child and it’s over!  My mama bear instincts kicked in and I was ready to attack.  My husband told me it wouldn’t do any good.  He would just say something else mean and it would go on and on.  He told me the best thing to do was leave it alone.  After a couple of hours of being angry and thinking of insulting jabs I realized my husband was right.  I needed to let it go.  Once I did, it felt so good.  I want to de-friend this guy again but at the same time, I don’t want to give him the satisfaction.

So now I suppose you can see why your column hit home with me this week.  I cannot stand the hateful comments online.  It’s scary to me.  Like you said, anonymity doesn’t give you the right to be crude or insulting.  I’m at a loss to explain the behavior of someone I’ve known most of my life!  Even though I know him and his family and share many friends with him, I cannot fathom his behavior online.  Why does this supposed friend of mine feels it appropriate to insult his friends and acquaintances for everyone to see on Facebook?  It’s beyond me.  I guess I’ll just chalk it up to cowardice.  He lives far away and I suppose he feels he can “get away with it.”  Even though he thinks he’s invisible, I’m not.  The insults were very real to me and hurt me.  It’s so hard for me to understand because I didn’t do anything to him or his family.  I don’t get kicks from insulting people.  It’s sad that he does.  

I think if we applied “The Golden Rule” to the internet the world, online and off, would be a much better place to live. 

Thanks and keep up the good work!




i meant to email you a few weeks ago after your column on the unsigned letter you wrote about that was not nice. (the letter, not the column) i write for the chattanoogan and just got the meanest, snidest little note ever, and of course unsigned. it infuriates me and just wanted to say, ‘i hear you’. certain people need to find something to do besides be ugly, and if they insist on being pains in the asses, they should at least own up to it.

there, i feel a little better.

i love your columns, and keep it up!

ferris r

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